The 21 Laws of Relationships (P1)
Hear the word of your God from Isaiah 42:22,23 (ESV): But this is a people plundered and looted; they are all of them trapped in holes and hidden in prisons; they have become plunder with none to rescue, spoil with none to say, "Restore!" Who among you will give ear to this, will attend and listen for the time to come?
In civil society, if we break certain laws we go to prison. In relationships, if we break certain laws we also end up in prison--a prison of frustration, loneliness, emptiness, anger, blaming, decreased mental health, emotional problems, feeling hopelessly trapped, and just plain misery. In relationship therapy I call this "relationship prison". I have been incarcerated there before. Weren't you my cellmate?
Most of the time we go to relationship prison, or stay longer than our fair sentence, all on our own. I know, I know, he/she was an abuser/manipulator/controller/narcissist/selfish/orc/other, but (1) your lower self tolerated them far longer than was Biblical and healthy, and (2) you did not detect, or take seriously, the warning signs before you got tangled up with them. As the sarcastic saying goes, "Everyone in prison is innocent." Own your part in the relationship lawbreaking that earned you prison time, own it honestly, even if your crime was being a terrified-of-conflict passive doormat (ever heard of accessory after the fact or not reporting a crime or complicity through silence?).
Sweet beloveds, enough vomiting in your own mouth about someone else's crazy and swallowing it again. And again. And again. Your unhealed wounds, tolerated idols, ignorance of relationship terrain, lack of Biblical wisdom, and lack of intense intimacy with God made you wounded prey for sharks, who can smell one drop of blood in ten billion drops of water.
Lawbreakers Go To Prison
We go to relationship prison because we break laws that govern all human relationships, and we break them because we do not know or fully understand or tremble in godly fear at those precepts and concepts. We break them unknowingly or stubbornly, landing us behind bars time and time again, making us wonder why everyone else is so unloving, so cruel. Then we swallow that vomit. Again.
We do not have to go to relationship prison! It is a dark place infested with numerous species of demons, especially tormenting spirits. Unholy, unhealthy, unhappy relationships are, more or less, lawless. They are self-consumed, chaotic, dramatic, overemotional, reactive, bitter, smoke and mirrors, unstable, hypersensitive, and ultimately, miserable. Holy, healthy, happy relationships comply with the absolute precepts and concepts that govern all relationships. They get to enjoy the wonder that is a safe and fulfilling bond. They get to enjoy longterm oneness with another human soul.
Hear the good news from the Lord in Isaiah 42:7 and 61:1 (ESV): ...to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness...The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound...
The twenty-plus laws I am about to explain pertain to relationships already in progress. The following pre-laws, however, are guides that pertain to before they even begin.
Pre-Law #1: Relationships are abundant, not scarce.
Being in relationship prison too long or too often makes one feel that relationships are rare, that there is simply not enough love to go around. Consequently, we cling to whatever mediocre or malicious person that floats into our orbit. Sure you wanna settle? Relationship prison is filled with people who chose second-best and third-best and good-enough. No doubt there are more mediocre and malicious individuals than high-caliber or promising ones. Still, they are out there. You may not know them, or they may not be in your social biome, but they are out there.
Pre-Law #2: Outline what you are looking for.
Without vision we go to prison (Pr 29:18 KJV). Outline the type of relationship you desire. Many people wander from person to person hoping to be saved from themselves, their past, or their sense of nothingness and boredom. Consequently, they become a string puppet in someone else's theater. Understand yourself and enjoy your own company! From this self-directed knowledge, establish an outline for what you want in a relationship. You can only love a neighbor as you love yourself (Mk 12:31)--one of the most underappreciated phrases in all of God's Word.
Pre-Law #3: Break the pattern.
Stop drifting to subpar people. This vain repetition is a subconscious phenomenon whereby we keep repeating disappointing relationships until we finally "fix it" and "make it right". With the Holy Spirit's help, make a conscious effort to engage different, more wholesome, people. Be selective. Intentionally go against the pattern and break it. Proverbs 12:26 says (NKJV), The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.
(1) THE LAW OF FOUNDATION
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy when comprehensively founded on the person and presence of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Any relationship's outcome is determined by its truest foundation, its truest center, its truest motivation for existence and continuance. No other foundation exists other than Jesus Christ, 1Corinthians 3:11 says. Anything built upon Him is sturdy and steady-drips life, while any other foundation will prove disillusioning when visited by life's cruel realities (Lk 6:46-49).
For a relationship to fully flourish under God's direct blessing and protection, each person must contribute a personal spirituality founded on the Lord Jesus Christ. This means a daily, passion-filled, obedient, maturing experience with Him based on a rich two-way prayer life. The tricky counterfeit is when someone merely agrees intellectually with Christianity, or, thinks involvement in Christian activities is enough (churchgoing, meetings, listening to sermons, reading Christian material, etc.). Practical activities and vehicles have their role, but they do not equal being founded on the Lord. A person genuinely founded on Him is a born-again organism that is perpetually praying, feeding, hearing, obeying, and changing in Him in obvious ways.
(2) THE LAW OF FUNCTIONAL BIBLICAL KNOWLEDGE
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to the functional Biblical knowledge of each person.
Functional knowledge is "knowledge at work". It is acting decisively and consistently on what we know. It is the application of information. In the kingdom, it is putting Biblical truth to work. Functional Biblical knowledge goes beyond hearing, reading, and learning Scripture, into doing it, working it, and experiencing it. This is James' entire point in James 1:22-25. Jesus said it like this in Luke 6:47 (NASB, underline mine): Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like.
God told Joshua his success in conquering the promise land depended on his functional knowledge of the Scriptures (Jsh 1:7,8). The psalmist said whoever lives by the Law of Lord will be like a fruitful tree planted by rivers of living water, prospering in anything and everything (Ps 1:2,3). Relationships depend on the Word as a light and a lamp to illuminate the best way, in immediate situations and longterm (119:105). Biblical ignorance and inaction have left many promising relationships withering and wandering in a hot, dry desert.
(3) THE LAW OF PERSONAL WHOLENESS
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to the inner wellness of each person.
Individuals who are whole make happy relationships, while individuals with holes make unhappy ones. The more emotionally and mentally sound the individuals are, the more relaxed and enjoyable the relationship. The stronger the individuals' sense of personal worth and identity, the stronger the relationship. The equation is simple: it begins with two (or more) individuals that are whole, or diligent in becoming whole.
I am seeking fool's gold by making someone else responsible for my happiness. Relationships often run out of air and die because one person has chronic holes inside, yet blames the other person for not plugging up those holes. Your life is your own stewardship! Your relationship viability is your own stewardship! Heal thyself in Christ! Then and only then can you pull your own weight towards a great relationship.
(4) THE LAW OF PERSONALITY
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to personality understanding and empathy.
We all were divinely designed in uniqueness and difference (Ps 33:15, 139:13-16, Eph 2:10). This means each individual is semi-programmed with a distinct set of passions, preferences, opinions, and behaviors rooted in their personal nature. Relationships crumble fast when individuals compromise their basic personality, or when it is not understood, appreciated, and encouraged. On the other hand, relationships soar at amazing levels when individuality understanding and empathy are plenty.
Scripture gives us enlightening truths about human personality, which is ultimately traced back to divine personality. Some people are naturally assertive and strong-willed, like Paul the intense leader (Ac 23:2,3, Gal 2:11,14). Some are naturally peaceable and submissive, like Abraham, the agreeable partner (Gen 16:1,2,6, 23:16). Some are naturally playful and sanguine, like Elijah, the sarcastic provocateur (1Ki 18:27). Some are naturally pensive and serious, like Jeremiah, the uber-realistic and weepy prophet (Jer 20:14-18, 15:10, Lam 1:16,20,21, 2:11, 3:48).
Understand yourself and be yourself. You will form a new identity layer with the individual(s) you are in relationship with, however, your baseline personality must remain intact. Some people need to discover (or rediscover) themselves before they seek to discover another. In discovering another, celebrate what you find, though it differ from you.
(5) THE LAW OF MUTUAL COMMITMENT
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to the commitment of each person.
It takes two to tango. A relationship can develop towards the ideal when all individuals involved are equally committed and contributive. Different types of investments are required for different types of relationships (spiritual, emotional, intellectual, financial/material, marital, ministerial, professional, etc.). The nature and intent of the relationship will determine what investments are appropriate. Are all persons willing to invest and give equally, and do so ongoingly? If so, the relationship can progress towards the ideal. If not, the relationship plateaus or deadlocks and becomes a one-sided project. Ecclesiastes 9:10 (NASB): Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might...
(6) THE LAW OF SECURITY & TRUST
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to the security and trust level.
Security and trust, like many of these laws, grow progressively over time with the right experiences. Everyone needs the assurance they are relating with someone loyal. Within such safety we feel more liberal with honesty and vulnerability, resulting in high levels of intimacy and fulfillment. Thus, relating persons must go the extra hundred miles to perfect security and trust. Without these twins, suspicions, accusations, and paranoia threaten to swallow the relationship whole. We will hear what is not being said and we will imagine what is not real.
Proverbs 20:6 (NKJV): ...but a faithful man who can find?
Proverbs 25:19 (NIV): Like a bad tooth or a lame foot is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble.
Luke 16:10-12 (NIV): Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else's property, who will give you property of your own?
(7) THE LAW OF ROLE INTEGRITY
Relationships become holy, healthy, and happy in proportion to the role integrity of each person.
Role refers to the specific job or jobs each person performs in the relationship to make it succeed. Therefore, role integrity refers to faithfully doing and fulfilling that particular job.
Consider friendships, for example. Some friendships are up-down; one person is clearly the leader or "older sibling", while the other is more docile or even a protégé (think Elijah and Elisha). If this is truly the best and healthiest scenario for both persons, then the relationship can flourish only if they are both faithfully fulfilling their roles. This does not mean the relationship cannot graduate into a horizontal friendship (walking side by side with no distinct leader). It simply means that in each season both persons must discern and fulfill their roles for the welfare of the relationship, whatever that might be.
Jesus had an up-down relationship with the disciples for most of His ministry. He had the clear role of rabbi and they the role of students. Then, at the end of His life, He declared them no longer servants but friends, upgrading the relationship to a side-by-side partnership (Jn 15:15).
All relationships come with roles, even professional ones. Each person must assess the nature and intent of the relationship, and, what role they must fulfill to ensure the relationship's wellbeing and success.